Private Residence

Private Residence in Chicago, Illinois by Tadao Ando, 1998

Tadao Ando's first major American commission (after a small gallery design in the Art Institute of Chicago) is a private residence (1998) in the Lincoln Park area north of downtown. The design and construction continue the Japanese architect's consistent body of work with its focus on simple geometries and the relationship between light and space. Ando's work remains aesthetically identical from country to country (having also built in Europe as well as Asia), with context dictating very little except orientation relating to sun, wind, and views. Mainly reinforced concrete, glass, and steel, every building Ando constructs bears these trademarks, with differences arising in composition and spatial progression. This private residence is no exception.

Situated on a 75-foot wide triple lot, the house does not attempt to blend in with its neighbors, mainly late 19th century brick apartment buildings. A blank concrete wall with one opening containing a large steel door confronts the visitor. Immediately one senses that the focus of the house is inward. The simple plan is broken into three distinct parts: the two-story entry/guest wing followed by the one-story living/dining space towards the private, three-story wing off the alley. These three parts surround and visually open to a shallow pool, existing for viewing only. Skimming the surface of the pool, a ramp leads from the living/dining space to a roof terrace above. Finally a long concrete beam traversing the pool helps to confine the exterior space west of the house and reinforce the north-south axis of the interior spaces.

From such a simple, three-part parti, Ando is able to construct dramatic spaces, particularly through the constant relationship of spaces to the exterior pool. This creation of a "faux" nature creates a serene, meditative environment that finds a dialectic in the harsh surfaces of the concrete. For people used to the light, soft surfaces of much residential architecture and developments, living in a Tadao Ando house would seem difficult. But it is this difference that illustrates the strength of his architecture: it imposes a way of life upon the occupant. The gallery-like spaces command patience and an inner peace that not everyone is capable of. Some may argue that the architect's job is to fulfill the client's wishes and not to impose beliefs upon the client. The ideal lies somewhere in the middle, with mutual understanding and compromises happening on both sides. Whatever the case on this residence, Ando's architecture promotes introspection that may lead to a different way of life, a different way of looking at the world.